Astronomers say they hope the new mission to search for extrasolar Earth-like planets, the HabEx, will become NASA’s next flagship project, according to the Physicist Network. The mission will use a mirror-wider Hubble space telescope to discover and characterize the rotation of dark planets around stars to find exoplanets that can feed life.
“Our goal is to find out if we can find an Earth-like planet that can support life,” habEx co-chair Scott Gaudi said. Although we have discovered many exoplanets, no planet has yet been conclusively proven to have the essential elements of life’s habitability, and the HabEx project is timely. “
The HabEx mirror is 4 meters wide, while the Hubble telescope’s is 2.4 meters wide, Gowdy said. HabEx will work with the Star Shadow spacecraft to look for light from other planets in the sky. These light esclosers are usually obscured by brighter light from nearby stars, but a 52-meter-wide “star shadow” deflects the star’s starlight.
Once the star reaches orbit, it expands and flies about 77,000 kilometers from the telescope, blocking the star’s rays, but allowing the planet’s reflected light to shine on the telescope’s instrument. The telescope will then look for “shadows” of planets that have water or carbon dioxide, one of the planet’s habitable features. The telescope will also be equipped with a powerful camera to take pictures of nearby planetary systems. The photos will be the first “family photo” of these planetary systems, Gowdy said.
In addition, HabEx will be equipped with facilities such as a coronal instrument that can characterize and record images of exoplanets.
During its decade in service, HabEx will collect data on exoplanets and conduct other experiments to better understand the solar system.
HabEx is one of four finalists in NASA’s next flagship mission competition, following the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. The other three “players” are the Large Ultraviolet Optical Infrared Detector (LUVOIR), the Origin space telescope and the X-ray Observatory.
The total cost of HabEx is about $7 billion. LUVOIR will also search for habitable exoplanets, but it is larger, 40 times the amount of light collected by the Hubble telescope and could cost more than $10 billion.